For as long as I can remember, Granit Xhaka has been a contentious figure over The Arsenal.
When we signed him, I was very exited.
I saw him as potentially one of the best midfielders in Europe.
Xhaka was a fantastic ball playing central midfield who mixed up fabulous short and long passing with aggression in defence.
At 6ft he seemed to have it all in the locker to be not only a mainstay of our midfield but also our long term captain.
Xhaka was everything we hoped Jack Wilshere would become. But it never really happened for him.
For all his great work, he always had a poor decision in him.
Playing a blind pass that went straight to an opponent, or committing a silly foul when there was no need for him to do so.
And everytime he made such a mistake, it seemed to lead to conceding a goal.
There was also the petulance. The ill-discipline. Red cards when he had not need to even make a challenge.
He could put in 7 or 8 dominating performances but on that 9th or 10th game would do something that would cost us. And this led to the love / hate relationship with the fans. And invariably it was more hate than love.
What was frustrating for someone like me is I could see how much of a good player he was.
Arsenal were a better team with him in it. He was magnificent for Switzerland. But then he would do one of those silly things and it would undo all the good he has done.
At the weekend he scored the clincher against Manchester United. After the game he spoke brilliantly about how the 3 points was great, but we had plenty of work to do.
Then on his drive home he stopped for pictures with fans. This is a long way from him telling fans where to go after the Crystal Palace game a few years ago.
Xhaka seems transformed this season.
The mistakes are few and fair between – and less costly – which allows us to concentrate on the good rather than the bad.
6 months ago he was one of those we would have been looking to move on in the summer. But now he has become key to how Mikel Arteta wants to play; and very few would be upset if he remained.
So how has Xhaka transformed himself?
Well for a start he was never a bad player. He just had bad moments.
He seems to have eradicated those moment s from the game. But he has been helped by a tactical switch by Arteta.
For Switzerland, he never played as the deepest midfielder. Xhaka aways had someone in behind him.
This allowed him to press higher up the field, influencing the game in more attacking areas.
It also meant if he made an error, he was further up the field with more players in behind him.
For much of his time at Arsenal, Xhaka has been the deepest midfielder, playing just in front of the defence.
This means when he previously lost the ball, opponents were right at our defence with very little cover – and that cover was Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz or Sokratis. Not exactly top drawer!
By playing further up the field, he is more protected.
He makes an error, opponents are only on the half way line and stop facing Thomas Partey and a back four.
And that back 4 is much approved with Gabriel and White in it.
So in days gone past, he had Mustafi and Luiz behind him. Now it is Partey, Gabriel and White.
A problem previously is that he just didn’t trust those behind to pass the ball too. This led him to often dwell on it too long or make a pass he should not.
Our back 4 (and Partey) are now all much more comfortable on the ball.
This comfort also means that they those behind Xhaka can also play out the back a lot better. The result is instead of receiving the ball on the edge of the box, Xhaka now gets it further up the pitch.
At 29, Xhaka is now a senior pro at the club and very much part of the leadership team – even if he won’t wear the armband again.
This summers conversation should be about who we should sign to cover and compete with Xhaka, rather than who we should sign to replace him.
Arguably our player of the season. Granit Xhaka.